Telcos could be forced to let customers roam rival networks during outages under plan Optus opposed | Optus

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Telcos could be forced to allow customers to roam rival networks in the event of outages under emergency conditions being developed by the federal government, despite Optus previously opposing the plan.

Millions of Optus customers were left without access to phone or internet services from 4am AEST until 6pm on Wednesday, along with a number of wider services including trains, payment systems and call centres.

Customers have had no choice but to find alternatives such as Wi-Fi or buying a service from a rival telco, but plans in the works could mean they can connect to Telstra or Vodafone if another outage occurs.

In October, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt instructed the Communications Department and the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema) to work with telecoms companies to develop a means of temporary emergency roaming . An Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC) report last month found it was technically feasible for companies to implement this.

The proposal was specifically intended for emergencies or natural disasters, but when asked if it could work in an outage, Rowland said it was an option.

“This requires collaboration between mobile network providers, but comes after the ACCC found the option was technically feasible,” she said.

“We will continue to watch this space to ensure we have the right settings in place to help Australians stay connected during disasters.”

The move is similar to one undertaken in Canada after Rogers Communication suffered a prolonged outage last year that was almost identical to the outage that Optus is believed to have suffered on Wednesday. The outage knocked out services to 12 million customers and subsidiaries, as well as payments, healthcare and law enforcement services for 15 hours.

After the Canadian government gave the telecom companies 60 days to come up with a plan, the companies signed an agreement to allow emergency roaming for such outages.

The ACCC asked Telstra to analyze the Canadian proposal and a similar US initiative, and Telstra said the same methods could be applied in Australia.

However, the ACCC said there was reluctance from telecoms companies, including Telstra and Optus, about the use of emergency roaming.

“Australian mobile network operators agree that a temporary mobile roaming solution in Australia should not be used to cover non-emergency related network outages, with its use limited to events considered ‘life or death’ and not, for example, in response to a network outage or cyber attack,” the ACCC said.

Optus also partly argued in its contribution to the study that the 000 feature that allows people to call emergency services on any mobile network already exists. However, the company yesterday advised customers not to call 000 from their mobile phones as some customers reported a connection would not be made.

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The company said it would have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to increase network capacity if it had to implement the roaming plan.

“Potential roaming traffic would be significantly above existing levels… Significant investment in additional network capacity would be required to ensure that congestion does not negatively impact the quality of service.”

Guardian Australia asked Optus on Thursday if it shared the same view. A spokesperson said the company would attend a roundtable on disaster preparedness and resilience on November 23.

Nema will report to the government in March next year. The federal government has separately launched an investigation focused on the Optus outage.

The company’s embattled CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, told Seven News on Wednesday that the company “understands how important it is to be constantly connected.”

The company had not yet explained the cause of the outage outside Bayer Rosmarin, claiming it was a “technical network error.”

“These outages happen when you use critical infrastructure and we are doing everything we can to ensure they don’t happen. Today we failed to do that,” said Bayer Rosmarin.

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